An American’s Insights into Russia, 1995-2005-2015

Book review: Bears in the Streets, by Lisa Dickey No fewer than six people in six different cities (and four different time zones) had informed me that this is what Americans think. “Bears in the streets,” I realized, was the apparently ubiquitous shorthand for the Russians’ feeling that the West doesn’t take them seriously enough – that we think they’re primitive or backward. Lifelong Russophile Lisa … Continue reading An American’s Insights into Russia, 1995-2005-2015

What Makes the Russians Tick

Book review: Russians, by Gregory Feifer “Russia has no need of sermons (she has heard too many), nor of prayers (she has mumbled them too often), but of the awakening in the people a feeling of human dignity, lost for so many ages in mud and filth.” – Vissarion Belinsky on the Russian Orthodox Church in a letter to Nikolai Gogol, 1847 This quote opens a chapter of Russians titled “Cold … Continue reading What Makes the Russians Tick

Trekking the Urals for a Soviet Mystery

Book review: Dead Mountain, by Donnie Eichar In February 1959, nine experienced hikers died under mysterious circumstances on a cross-country ski trip in the Ural Mountains. They were university students, longtime friends, and accustomed to the harsh conditions and remote, exerting atmosphere of hiking and skiing during winter at the border of Siberia. When search parties were dispatched to the region, some distance from Yekaterinburg (then … Continue reading Trekking the Urals for a Soviet Mystery

Vignettes from a Communist Childhood

Book review: The Girl from the Metropol Hotel, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya Ludmilla Petrushevskaya is one of contemporary Russia’s most loved and accoladed author/playwrights, famous for her books of “scary fairytales”(There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby) and “love stories” (There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband and He Killed Himself) with a distinctly Russian twist. In her memoir, The Girl from … Continue reading Vignettes from a Communist Childhood

Tigers in the Wild: Observations from Siberia

Book review: Great Soul of Siberia, by Sooyong Park Back in 2010, I read a book so good that even while I was reading it I knew it was going to be hard to top. It was around the time I was shifting to reading primarily nonfiction, and John Vaillant’s The Tiger was influential in my making that shift. I remember staying home on a Friday night, so caught … Continue reading Tigers in the Wild: Observations from Siberia

Outsiders Bearing Witness to Revolution

Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the Edge by Helen Rappaport Helen Rappaport, author of 2014’s popular history The Romanov Sisters, among other titles on history and royals both Russian and otherwise, explains in her acknowledgments for Caught in the Revolution that while working as a historian she was struck by “…how much seemed to have been written about the revolution by Russians, … Continue reading Outsiders Bearing Witness to Revolution

Tales of a Red Storm Coming

Book review: 1917: Stories and Poems from the Russian Revolution selected by Boris Dralyuk In college I took a class in Russian Literature of the Silver Age. This is the period of the late 19th/early 20th century when Russian literature reached impressive creative heights. It was such an enlightening course, and introduced me to many of the names that come up in this collection: Tsvetaeva, … Continue reading Tales of a Red Storm Coming

A Serial Killer and the Sickness of the Soviet Union

Bridge across the River Don in Rostov-on-Don, Russia; one of many cities that were the scenes of the grisly crimes of Soviet serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, also known as the Rostov Ripper or the Red Ripper. Photo credit: Zhanett.b, Wikimedia Commons. Book review: The Red Ripper: Inside the Mind of Russia’s Most Brutal Serial Killer, by Peter Conradi A few years ago I watched a documentary about … Continue reading A Serial Killer and the Sickness of the Soviet Union

Losing its Collective Mind

Book review: Almost Home by Filipp Velgach Almost Home is the memoir of Filipp Velgach, an American of Ukrainian heritage. He was recruited to translate in the Ukraine for a group of documentary filmmakers in 2013, at the time of major unrest and protests revolving around then-president Yanukovych and Ukraine’s relationship with Russia. These are complicated politics, and even while following the news, I found it … Continue reading Losing its Collective Mind

Field Guide to the Strange and Unusual

Quinta da Regaliera in Sintra, near Lisbon, Portugal. Me, in blue, in the deep, dark, moss-covered Initiation Well where Masonic ceremonies allegedly took place. One of the fantastic, fascinating sites highlighted in the book Book review: Atlas Obscura, by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton How often do you hear of travel guides promising to lead you off the beaten path? And how often do those revealed … Continue reading Field Guide to the Strange and Unusual

Why Spy?

Book review: The Falcon and the Snowman Two childhood friends, former altar boys, develop their own espionage “scam”, as they call it, and become unlikely spies, selling government documents to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It would make an entertaining basis for a spy novel, except that it actually happened. An upcoming ebook edition of this former bestseller is published September 6. Christopher Boyce and … Continue reading Why Spy?